Abstract

George Steiner reconsiders the arguments of The Death of Tragedy more than forty years after its publication. Noting the radical indeterminacy of "tragedy" and "tragic," he seeks to delimit these terms not through fruitless attempts at formal definition but by elucidating a common core of suppositions. According to Steiner, this core consists of a sense of ontological homelessness, of "alienation or ostracism from the safeguard of licensed being." In reflecting on his earlier arguments, he now concedes that this sense of fundamental estrangement and primordial suffering is not superseded by modernity but continues to mark the thought of thinkers such as Marx, Freud, and Lévi-Strauss. Acknowledging the historical variety and fluctuation of tragic forms, he writes: "with few exceptions, 'tragedy' after Goethe perpetuates itself in prose fiction, in opera, in film, in reportage." At the same time, Steiner continues to insist on a fun damental difference between such modern expressions of the tragic and what he calls the "absolute tragedy" of the Greeks, which is marked by a radical pessimism alien to both Christianity and atheism.

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